They came for us at 1 a.m. Jeff started to wave his hands and mutter something over Celia. “Cover your ears,” Phoenix said.
I knew it was the Speech of Sodom, and the less I heard of that the better. I got my bound hands up under my chin to where I could manage my fingertips into my ears. After Jeff finished raising Celia from her magically-induced coma, I watched her eyes fly open as she looked around, stunned and disoriented.
“Hello, my queen,” Phil grinned at her. “Time for you to die.”
Even doped on magic, Celia wasn’t dumb. She saw me and Phoenix, chained, looked at her own bindings, and realized that Phil had betrayed her.
“You fucker,” she hissed.
He laughed. “Hell hath no fury, eh?”
She lunged at him, but he was too smart for that – he’d stayed just past the end of her chain.
“Get up,” Jeff said. Then our bindings fell off, and we obeyed. I wanted to escape, to run, to attack, anything other than follow them out of this cell and down, deeper into a sub-basement, where we were to be sacrificed. But Phoenix had a plan. I didn’t like it, but it was a plan, which was more than I had.
They forced us into a magicking room about twenty times the size of mine, with a cedar altar on which two onyx jars sat, waiting for something to be poured into them… I knew what they were, from my research – souljars, small, dark prisons in which they would entomb my and Celia’s spirits for all time.
There were three stone biers prepared for us, two parallel to each other and one horizontal across their ends. I did as I was told and lay down on mine. God, it was so cold – like, unnaturally cold. At least ordinary stone would have warmed a bit from my body temperature, but this, this just sucked the heat from my body and only got colder in the process.
Then we were bound, straps across our bodies from shoulder to toe so that our hands couldn’t move. Celia was next to me, and Phoenix was on the third bier, at our feet.
“Don’t move,” Phil smirked, “we’ll be back soon.” Then they left us.
“God damn it,” Celia muttered. “I sure can pick ‘em.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said. “He tricked you. Seduced you. Ga’ap has some serious powers in that department.”
“All the same,” she grumbled. “If we get out of here, I’m going to be celibate forever. And no more magic, either.” She paused. “Can Rob…?”
“No. They’re going to time it so that we’re dying like a minute before he comes out of the ground.”
“I don’t know what you see in him,” Phoenix muttered.
I lifted my head to see him. “You can hold a grudge a long-ass time, can’t you?”
“Hell yeah. I was almost king, would have been king of daemonkind, if it hadn’t been for Rob. And you. Or your ancestor, anyway.”
“ ‘If it hadn’t been for you meddling kids,’” Celia mocked him, and I had to laugh. If only it was a Scooby-Doo episode and the enemy was just an old man in a mask.
“Well. At least, unlike Phil, you didn’t want to kill me for it.”
Phoenix paused. “That, Sol, is because, as hard as it may be for you to believe, I like you. I always admired your ancestor. He had good intentions. They certainly conflicted with mine, but…”
I was speechless. “Wow. Well, thank you, Phoenix.” I sighed. “You know what my plan was for tonight? To be up the hill, up Thomas Creek Trail, to be there when Rob comes up again. It’s stupid, I know, but I’ve been visiting him all this time. Pouring coffee on the, um, gravesite I guess you could call it. Even making him dinner and burying it there. Crazy, right?”
Phoenix laughed, delighted. “That’s wonderful. More wonderful than you know.” He laughed wildly. “This is going to work.”
“What do you mean?”
“You brought offerings to Rob. You fed him. You did homage to him, gave him power, Sol. When he comes up, you have no idea how much more powerful he’ll be, thanks to you.”
“So all we have to do is survive till he gets here?”
“Well, he’ll still need our help.”
“I don’t…” I stopped. “I don’t like your plan.”
“What plan?” Celia asked.
I bit my lip, and Phoenix answered in my stead. “We’re going to reroute the spell. When I burn tonight, my power will go into Sol, not Jeff.”
“Awesome!” Celia said.
“No,” I said. “Not really. Phoenix has been weakened, from all this draining. One more burn and he’s dead, really dead and gone. What daemons call the Everdeath. No matter who does it.”
“It has to be done, Sol,” Phoenix said calmly. “It’s the Everdeath for me either way. But this way, I get my revenge. Just promise me…” His voice deepened, filled the room. “No, swear to me, that you will see Jeff Faustus burnt to cinders tonight. That I won’t be the only one to burn.”
“I swear it, Phoenix.” I was sad, and startled by how sad I was, at the idea of his death. “You’re…you’re my friend, and I’ll avenge you.”
Phoenix said nothing. I think he was stunned by my use of the F word.
“And more than that,” I said impulsively. “I’ll find a way to bring you back. I swear that, too.”
He laughed. “You’re vowed to break Rob’s curse, now you’re vowed to restore me from Everdeath, make me the first daemon ever to return from it. You might be feeling a tad overscheduled soon.”
I laughed in reply. “No doubt.”
But before I could say more, they were back, Jeff dressed in a black hooded robe with symbols that made me queasy to look at, and Ga’ap as naked as a jaybird.
“1:55,” Jeff said, noting the time like a surgeon. “Let’s begin.”
I took a deep breath, let it out. I can do this, I told myself.
Jeff stood between Celia and I, while Ga’ap rose from the ground, hovered over Phoenix, face to face, clearly preventing him from doing anything tricky.
Jeff reached into his robe and pulled out two long daggers, black-bladed and black-hilted. He held one over Celia’s heart and one over mine.
“Eichnath Ba’al-ka, Eichnath dor eacha Mardo! Bakkak Mek ar Marda…”
1:57. I had to resist it, that wave of despair that came over me at the sound of the Speech of Sodom. That was Jeff’s first mistake – failing to muzzle me, thinking that the first words out of his mouth would be more than I could bear.
Instead, I spoke, too, just barely, under my breath, my lips hardly moving. Jeff was so enraptured with himself, his look-at-me-I’m-the-Dark-Lord shit, that he didn’t even notice. “Noor al beteah, Phoenix vanka moof et geah, Phoenix al mostar…”
It was Phil whose head whipped around. “Silence him!” But it was too late; Jeff couldn’t stop now in the middle of his invocation.
“Astarot defka Phoenix! Astarot meck Phoenix ka mi!”
“Na Phoenix ka, Ista!,” I shouted back, not bothering with subtlety now. “Na Phoenix ka!”
1:58. I could hear it now, the crackle, the hiss of Phoenix’s hair curling, burning. I knew his eyes were bright orange now, his bones were hardwood, his skin was parchment, his flesh was coal. I could feel the heat rising from him, the intense incredible heat…
Jeff leaned over me, and whispered in my ear. “Ka netha ka. Ka netha obis.”
I wanted to be dead. The effect of Jeff’s words was like having your pet die, your lover leave you, your parents killed, all at once. There is no life, there is only death… I believed it.
Then I heard Phoenix groan with the pain of it, the pain of dying, and it shamed me out of my sorrow. “Ka osi ka, Phoenix ka val, Phoenix osiro!” I replied. There is life, Phoenix is life, Phoenix is reborn…
Phoenix screamed as his skull cracked from the heat, and I saw it…saw the great beautiful bird that was his spirit rise up, its magnificent wings and their red and purple and orange feathers, and he looked down at me, and I know birds don’t have lips, but he smiled at me.
1:59. I opened my mouth to welcome him to my body.
“Eichnath et moro!” Jeff shouted. He raised the daggers to plunge them into our hearts. Celia shut her eyes tight.
Phoenix’s spirit, his energy…HOLY SHIT. His fucking POWER rushed into me. I knew then what Jeff was after, what he’d been questing for – more of this, more and more and more of it, the greatest drug ever.
All I had to do was think it, and my bindings were broken. My hand flew up and grabbed Jeff’s wrost, yanked him in my direction, away from Celia. He dropped the knife he’d intended for her, and grabbed my forearm to try and tear it off him. He hissed as the Seal of Solomon on my arm burned his fingers.
Then the ground rumbled. The floor cracked, and light sprang out from it.
Rob. My beautiful daemon lover was home.
But there was no time for even a smile. With Phoenix gone, Ga’ap was free to join the melee. He roared and attacked Rob, who I knew was still not entirely himself, this soon out of his prison. But Rob and Ga’ap wrestled while I fought Jeff.
Rob had the element of surprise – Ga’ap had thought he’d be weaker, much weaker, but my offerings, my homage, had made Rob stronger, as Phoenix had predicted.
“Sol!” I heard Rob shout, and his voice was like honey and wine and flowers and banished the last effect of Jeff’s dark words from my head. “Celia ma’a ka!”
Of course. I freed Celia’s bonds. “Celia! The jar! Get a jar!”
Celia jumped up and dashed to the altar, seizing on of the jars into which Jeff and Ga’ap had intended to entomb our own souls. Ga’ap tried to tear away from Rob’s grasp to stop her, but it was too late. With murder in her eyes, she glared at her former boyfriend. “This is for making me almost lose my best friend, asshole.” And she threw it at his head.
Ga’ap ducked, and Rob caught it. “In you go,” he said, and grabbed Ga’ap by the back of the neck.
“NO! No never again no!”
He struggled, and Rob struggled too, pressing, pressing Ga’ap out of form, his head elongating as the mouth of the jar opened wider for him. Absurdly, I thought it was like the end of Alien Resurrection, where the alien’s getting slowly sucked out the tiny hole in the window into the vacuum of space.
Jeff was strong, so strong physically. I needed to work out more, I realized dimly as his knife point came closer to my throat. Jeff smiled. “Rob can’t save you now, can he?”
“You forgot something, Jeff.” And I saw the fear in his eyes as mine began to change color. “I’ve got a fucking daemon inside me now.”
He began to burn, his strength giving out as the blood began to boil in his veins. “Wait. Wait. I can help you. I know the curse, the Daylight Savings curse. I can undo it. Think about it. Think what we can do together…”
I paused. I believed him. With my daemon eyes I could see it was true. In his dark researches, he had uncovered the knowledge that would free Rob from the spell that put him in the ground most of the year, year after year.
I could feel Rob and Ga’ap, pausing in their struggle. I knew they were waiting for me.
“Jeff Faustus, I want you to think about this. I want you to think about the women whose lives you stole. I want you to think about the cancer kids who lost their doctor, maybe lost their lives because of that. I want you to think…about my friend, Phoenix, who you killed.” I felt it, the unbearably delicious heat of daemon power, that banished every cold spot, every dark spot, every bad feeling. I felt it as I prepared to do what I’d promised.
“I will break the curse on Rob. I will do it without you. Because I swore you would burn. Cinders, Jeff. I promised Phoenix I would see you in cinders.”
“Astarot!” Jeff screamed as what he had done to Phoenix began to happen to him. “Astarot! Dark Lord, I pledge myself to thee, save me!”
If that awful thing could hear him, chained as it was in his tomb, where each year at the Winter Solstice it took Rob and five other daemons to keep him there, he didn’t reply.
Jeff’s cries might have moved a mortal to pity. But in this moment, I was daemonkind. And he burned.
The heart seemed to go out of Ga’ap, as if so much sacrifice, first Phoenix’s, now mine, was too much goodness in one place, one time, for him. The fight turned, and with a growl, Rob thrust him into the jar and slammed the stopper into place.
Jeff crumbled into the ashes I’d promised Phoenix. I looked at Rob. He looked at me.
He was so gorgeous, my daemon lover, with his dark hair and his dark eyes and his cinnamon skin, his wide receiver body and his big, big hands. He grinned at me and I ran to him and when we embraced…
“Wow,” Rob said, and I knew then that two daemons could fuck, oh my God could they ever, probably did sometimes, but probably didn’t because oh my god you could die from so much pleasure, or get so lost in it you’d never stop… With Phoenix’s power inside me, what couldn’t we do together…
I took a step back. “Wait. I promised Phoenix.”
Rob nodded solemnly. “The Everdeath is not something that any daemon has ever come back from, Sol.”
“Well, nothing’s ever happened until it does,” I said. I grinned. “And I’m Solomon Cohen, lest we forget.”
He laughed. “I’m proud of you. You’re a master sorcerer now, Sol. If anyone can defeat the Everdeath, it’s you. Here, I’ll help you. Celia, would you help as well?”
She shook her head, clearly exhausted, leaning against the bier that had almost been her grave. “I’m all done with sorcery for a while, thanks, kids.”
We stood on either side of Phoenix’s bier, over the white ash that he’d left behind. Rob carefully brushed the ash into a pile, then made a little bowl in the middle.
I put my right hand on my chest and I…reached inside myself. I felt it, that warm stone pulsing in my core, the power Phoenix had given me. For a microsecond I pitied Jeff Faustus, knowing how hard it was to part with this, to lose it.
I looked up at Rob, his placid, beautiful face, now, so terrible to behold just minutes ago as he’d forced Ga’ap into his new prison. That was magic, that was power – the love we had. It was better than mere, ordinary power.
My hand left my chest, and there it was, a softly glowing orange stone. I put it in the bowl of ash, and spoke from the heart.
Phoenix, great daemon, to save us you gave your last
Your goodness and grace cannot be surpassed
I thank you for the power you gave me, my friend
But I would return it, if I could see you again
Rob waved his hand, and Jeff’s great cedar altar exploded. All that remained of it was a box that Rob’s gesture had carved out of it. That box floated gently towards us.
The cold white ashes were warmed now by the soft light of the Phoenix Stone, for that was what I’d created – an orange gem that contained what was left of Phoenix. The ashes and the stone lifted up and relocated into the box, and Rob closed the lid.
“Nice,” Lucy said, startling me as she jumped up on the bier.
“You’re back.” Even though I knew her absence was Ga’ap’s doing, I had to needle her. “Typical cat, never around when you’re looking for it.”
“You’re going to need me around now, I think. Phoenix is right. You’ve overscheduled yourself a bit.”
I reached across the bier and took Rob’s hand. “Maybe. But I think I’ll manage. With a little help.”
“Oh, look,” I said, pointing at the headline. We were walking through the airport in Reno, home at last, and the newspapers at the kiosk all pretty much had the same headline. MISSING DOCTOR HOME SAFE. BILLIONAIRE FINANCE ASSHOLE SOUGHT IN KIDNAPPING. Okay, it didn’t say that exactly, but close enough.
“They can seek but they won’t find,” I said, feeling no small satisfaction.
Rob nodded. “Habeus corpus, indeed.”
At home, Gary was as delighted to see Rob as he was to see me. “’Bout time,” he said, jamming his nose in Rob’s crotch.
“Hey,” I said. “That’s mine.”
Gary’s joy wasn’t even dimmed by the sight of Lucy, who somehow managed to unzip her own cat carrier. He licked her enthusiastically and she stoically endured it. “Truce, hound?”
“What she said,” Gary agreed.
“Okay,” Rob said. “Time for you guys to go outside and play.”
They looked at each other, then discreetly sauntered to the back door as if they had no idea what we were about to get up to.
Before the door was even shut, Rob moved like the wind, his arms wrapping around me, pressing me into his chest, my face into his neck. I could taste him, could smell the earth in which he’d been entombed until so recently, but it was a good smell, rich, loamy, but also spicy, like…
“Is that…curry I smell?”
He laughed. “Yes. And it was delicious, thank you.” He licked my ear and it was like…when static electricity builds up, not the shock you get when you touch metal to discharge it, but the feeling you get when you walk past the lamp and the hairs stand to attention.
Rob’s fingertips trailed down my spine towards my ass, slowly, so slowly…I could feel a fire kindling in my ass, my ball sack tightening. His hands were so huge…
“You know what I miss?” I whispered.
“Football. I can’t watch football when you’re gone. I see gorgeous Eric Decker and his big gorgeous body, and I see you. I watch Tom Brady run a hand over his face, a hand as big as his face, and I think of you. Of your hands. That aren’t on me. And it kills me.”
Rob moved back a half step, and cupped my head in those hands, and I felt so enfolded, so safe… He looked me in the eyes, his love, his lust for me, twained there.
“They’re on you now.” Then they reached down and pulled my sweater over my head, taking my t-shirt with it. He wrapped his hands around my waist and it was like stepping into a warm bath.
I couldn’t wait. I dropped to my knees and yanked his pants open. He laughed at my enthusiasm, helped me when the zipper stuck. His cock was proportional to his hands, long and fat and hard and straight.
I put my mouth on it and all the poetry came back to me that I’d heard in my vision, of Solomon and Botasbar…myrrh and raisin cakes and apples, and the golden apple that was the head of his cock was so ripe and sweet.
I licked the shaft, took a little more and a little more of it, felt my throat open so easily, until, to both our astonishments, it was all the way down there, my nose grinding against his hipbone. I began to move, back and forth, my throat so tight around it, an iron grip of pleasure.
Rob half-laughed, half-groaned, and the contraction of his core it caused twitched his manhood inside me. And I realized after about a minute that not only wasn’t I choking, but I wasn’t smothering… I should have needed to come up for air long ago.
“Oh shit, how can you do that…”
I pulled off it, took a deep breath, not at all panting or desperate for oxygen. “Did you like that?”
A light went on in his eyes. “Ahh, I get it. When you had Phoenix’s power inside you, it changed you. There’s something of daemonkind in you now, Sol.”
I grinned my wickedest grin. “Wasn’t there always?”
Rob stopped smiling, the dark lust spilling over his face. “Let’s see what that’s done to your ass,” he said, pulling me to my feet and force-marching me to the bedroom.
We tore each other’s clothes off, literally – Rob ripped my boxer briefs right down the back, elastic and all, and threw the rags of it across the room, reaching back to part my crack and thrust his fingers into me. The strength of him, the impatience, the unbearably long wait we’d both endured, for this, for this…
He reached for the bottle of lube and I stopped him. Somehow I knew I wouldn’t need it.
“Put your fingers in there.”
He did, and his eyes widened – I was already wet, like a woman. He lifted his hand to his nose, then to mine. I laughed – it was olive oil, like the lube of antiquity. I’d conjured it without even thinking.
“I want you on your back,” he said. “I want to look in your eyes.”
“Yes.” I rolled back on the bed, my feet in the air and he mounted me, covered me like a stallion on a mare. His massive tool rubbed against my crack, my hole, my balls, teasing, torturing us both, prolonging the moment before we were finally really truly together again at last.
Rob’s eyes had that flash of red in them, that cat-eyed look I’d seen before, but there was no need for him to hide it from me anymore. And I knew in the moment he penetrated me that the backs of my own were orange, a legacy of Phoenix, that somehow letting him go had let me keep a part of him…
“I’m jealous,” Rob said.
“Phoenix was more inside you than I’ll ever be.”
“No, he wasn’t.” I reached back and cupped his ass cheeks. “You just have to push harder.”
And he did. My eyes may still have looked orange, but who knew, as they rolled up inside my head with the waves of ecstasy that Rob’s thrusts rolled through my body.
I could see it in his face, the un-daemonic slackness, the helplessness in the grasp of what was coming, the great explosion he was holding back, barely, an orgasm that had building up in him for so long.
He froze, as only daemonkind could manage to master such a wave. He looked me in the eyes. “Dor etha faitah, Sol?”
It took a moment for me to translate it. Had I got it right? Had I heard him wrong?
Because what it had sounded like was, “Will you marry me, Sol?”
I smiled. I too spoke the old language, the first language of love.
“Meina dar, Vanka. Ai al crono.” I will, brother. For all time.
Rob smiled, then flinched, then thrust, again and again, and this time when he spilled inside me it was like molten gold being poured inside me, like the power Phoenix had bestowed on me, but better, so much better… In his seed, my soul could taste him, his love, his fidelity, his goodness.
He collapsed on top of me, spent, laughing. “Holy shit, that was good.”
I stroked his hair, my lover’s hair, my soon-to-be-husband’s hair. “Yes, yes, never better,” and I knew it was true, for both of us. Always with Solomon and Botasbar there had been the secret of Botasbar’s true nature as Barbatos. There were no secrets between Rob and I.
And now I knew – there was a way to break the spell, the Daylight Savings curse. Jeff had taken the knowledge to his grave, but no matter, I’d learned there was a way. And I would find it. And I would free Rob, and this would be our life, not a few stolen winter nights but every night.